The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2021
Berkeley Prize 2021

Winta Assefa - Community Service Fellowship Report

The Mobile Library

1.    Background

The focus of this project is to create a prototype that can help the young booksellers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia display and sell their books more comfortably and efficiently.

Many of these booksellers carry those books in their hands, holding up to fifty books per hand. Carrying this many books has long-term repercussions on booksellers’ physical health. Lifting heavy weights can cause musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs), including strains and sprains. The risk of such injuries gets even worse when twisting, bending, and carrying weights with awkward postures - all of which are things these booksellers tend to do. One of the people mom and I interviewed, Abraham, talked about the back pain and the wrist marks that he got because of that. Sometimes, the large backpack where he kept his extra copies weighed on him so much, he fell backward. But the more books he could carry on his wrists, the more prepared he would be for any book title that a potential client may ask for. Many young people all over Addis Ababa are making similar choices to maximize their daily sales.

In several streets, it’s a common phenomenon to see people carrying large piles of books on both hands and walking through traffic. Since the books are on the drivers’ eye level, anyone-albeit with good eyesight-could check out the book spines from a long distance away to check whether any of the titles interest them so that they could make a purchase decision on the spot. But exposing those books to the sun and dust through a long day of outdoor work means that some of their covers could fade away and suffer damage.

Some of the booksellers graduate from selling books on the road to building enough of a client base to have a small station where they could sell their books. Abraham was one of the young men who made that transition. But some of the people mom and I had come across are rural migrants who do this work on a seasonal basis: they buy titles when the demand is relatively high and leave Addis Ababa when business is slow.  With these early prototypes, we hope to assist three young men in one of the thriving regions of Addis Ababa make that transition from nimble, mobile booksellers to more established ones.

Display unit

2.    The Mobile Library prototype aims to:

-    Protect the books from the sun, dust, and rain
-    Help them carry more books than they already do, i.e. up tp to around 150 books
-    Make it easier for the booksellers to move their books around, and make deliveries
-    Give the booksellers increased visibility as book distributors within the neighborhood and beyond
-    Help the booksellers become the primary agents of a thriving reading culture within the urban setting in a country where a large percentage of the population is under thirty years old


Open display unit
Display unit hinge (mold)

3.    Design process

To come up with the most appropriate design that can meet the booksellers’ needs, we teamed up with three young men who’re currently selling books in Gergi, Addis Ababa. Mom and I spent an evening brainstorming and coming up with sketches with Kalab, Getinet, and Sewagenyeh. In the end, we agreed on a simple vehicle-and-display arrangement.  This design underwent several phases over the course of the summer throughout which I made several life-sized mockups and models, consulted with professionals in different fields and checked the local market for the availability of several water-resistant materials like plexiglass and various metals.

(I)    Phase 1 of the Mobile Library: Bicycle + metallic trolley display
This was the first version of the mobile library, and after sharing the renders online, I was met with great interest, warm reactions, and requests to collaborate. A dispute with the main collaborator force stopped the assembly process though.

-    This arrangement could hold up to 200 books, and all of their spines would be visible at once
-    The sturdy metal envelope would protect the books from sun damage and any external impact on the road

Areas of improvement:
-    The metal structure ended up being heavier than anticipated
-    For the books to reach the drivers’ or passerby’s eye level, the trolley would either have to be elevated by using large wheels or through another mechanism
-    Addis Ababa’s roads are steep in many areas. So, accelerating or pressing the brakes with a loaded trolley in the back may be unsafe

(II)    Phase 2 of the Mobile Library: Acrylic display on reinforced bicycle rack This design would allow all the books to be seen at the same time. At this stage, the types of books that would be carried in the mobile library were weighed and placed on a life-sized mockup.

-    The transparent display would be an eye-catching feature atop any bicycle, and this feature could attract potential buyers
-    Acrylic is a sturdy and relatively light material, so the load wouldn’t be very difficult to move around

Areas of improvement:
-    Bending acrylic to 90° corners is not a common area of expertise here, so it may be risky to build a sturdy, long-lasting structure with it
-    The transparent envelope could mean that if the prototype remains under the sun for a long time, the book covers could fade through time
-    All of the books being equally visible may mean that passerby wouldn’t pause long enough or build rapport with the booksellers while inquiring about the availability of some books

Phase III of the Mobile Library: Fiberglass on reinforced bicycle rack
This is the latest version of the Mobile Library. The storage structure will be made of two layers of fiberglass that’ll create a thick-and light-envelope for containing the books. Since the internal shelf units will also be made of fiberglass that’ll be connected to the envelope, the end product will be a waterproof, monolithic structure with a transparent opening to let passersby peek at the books inside.
The structure could be accessed from two sides and could hold up to 200 books. The bookseller can carry as much as they can handle per ride, and even sell other stationery items along with the books.

Display unit on bicycle (mold)

Final notes:

My aim is for a prototype like this one to let citizens and government authorities take these young people’s trade more seriously and offer them better treatment and opportunities in the future.

Earlier this summer, I met several people in another part of the city who managed to open a small outdoor bookstore after years of selling on the streets. But they had to go through a hectic process, going from one government office to another, to obtain permission to occupy that corner of the street.

Perhaps designs like this one could make it easier for the next generation of booksellers to achieve something like that and more.










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